ESM’s New York Liberty free agency preview 2021

Determined to finally rise from the ashes of the WNBA cellar, the New York Liberty now face a most interesting free agency period.

The New York Liberty have sowed their post-Madison Square Garden rebuild for three years now. But after three years at or near the bottom of the WNBA standings, they’re really to start reaping.

Three months after the Bradenton bubble was deflated for the last time, the Association’s free agency period unofficially opened on Friday, with its twelve teams now permitted to negotiate with their own free agents, as well as Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents. Deals and offer sheets can officially be signed on February 1.

Trapped in the midst of a three-year playoff drought, the longest in franchise history, the Liberty have picked some strong-long term contributors during their stay in hardwood purgatory. These additions go far beyond the high-profile arrival of Sabrina Ionescu, as the team has also welcomed in All-Star Kia Nurse and 2020 All-Rookie team representative Jazmine Jones through the draft, while veteran leader Layshia Clarendon arrived through free agency last season. More recently, the Liberty hit the jackpot at the WNBA Draft Lottery for the second straight season, as they earned an early Christmas gift in the form of the top overall pick at this spring’s upcoming draft. Additionally, the Liberty gained franchise stability through new management. Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai purchased the team in 2019 and was ready to move the team into Brooklyn’s Barclays Center before current events enforced a delay.

These decisions and steps forward have done little to atone for the fact that the Liberty have endured some brutal seasons in recent years, with things more or less plummeting in a 2-20 record inside the bubble. The Liberty went through most of last season without Ionescu and veteran contributors like Rebecca Allen, Asia Durr, and Marine Johannes, using seven rookies over the course of the enclosed season. With the veterans set to return, the Liberty will have some major decisions to make when it comes to these young players.

In the lottery aftermath, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb made it clear that the 2021 season would be one that could at least begin to right the ship while developing some of their younger talents. Kolb labeled this modern endeavor a “hybrid rebuild”.

“We have a really exciting opportunity to kind of have a hybrid rebuild if you will,” Kolb said. “We can be super competitive right now while bringing along the future of the Liberty down the road. So that’s what we’re going to try to do. We have a plan, and we’ll see how it goes. Time will tell.”

“I think the most exciting thing is, we’re in position to do something. We’re positioned cap-wise, flexibility-wise, that if they’re interested in coming to New York, we’re in a position to capitalize on it.”

Based on numbers from Spotrac, the Liberty have just over $467,000 to spend through free agency.

ESM has you covered with what you need to know about the Liberty’s transactional future as the process gets underway…

Resolved

The Liberty have re-upped with one of their free agents thus far.

C/F Kiah Stokes 

Stokes was set to become a free agent but inked a one-year contract extension just before the Liberty’s season finale in September. After sitting out the entire 2019 WNBA season due to personal issues, Stokes returned to America with a newfound propensity for shooting the three, putting up 85 attempts after only three in her first four seasons. She sank only 20, but her newfound confidence from beyond the arc was inspiring to head coach Walt Hopkins.

“Stokes has been a rock for this group in a lot of ways,” Hopkins said in September. “In spite of her going through what has to have been the most difficult mental season in terms of being uncomfortable, when you’re uncomfortable, you’re able to grow.”

“As this season went on, it was quite clear Kiah Stokes needed to be a part of what we’re doing,” Kolb said after her re-upping. “She enables us what we want to be and helps us be what we want to be.”

As a first-round pick from 2015, Stokes also presents a rare form of experience on the current New York roster.

Core/Unrestricted

The Liberty have no players with the core or unrestricted designations.

Reserved

Reserved players are those that have three years or less of WNBA service. Their current teams have exclusive negotiation rights.

F Joyner Holmes

After the Liberty endured their veteran opt-outs, they brought in Holmes, a 2020 second-round pick from Seattle. Holmes averaged 2.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 19 games off the bench but left her mark on New York history by tying a Liberty rookie record with 13 rebounds in a September tilt against Phoenix.

G Paris Kea 

A former draft pick in Indiana, Kea was signed midseason once it became clear that Ionescu was out with a long-term issue. She made the most of her opportunity, averaging 6.9 points over 11 contests (five of which she started). The Liberty recently announced that Kea underwent knee surgery for an injury she sustained while playing overseas in Israel. Her 2021 status is uncertain, but she is expected to make a full recovery.

Unrestricted

Unrestricted free agents are permitted to sign with any team, except if they been bestowed core status

C Amanda Zahui B

Another New York veteran, coming over in a 2016 trade with the defunct Tulsa Shock, Zahui B emerged as a leader on and off the court last season. The rookie surplus looked up to her as an inspiration, while she used her platform to bring attention to social causes away from the hardwood.

Zahui B set career highs in nearly every major category this season, including averages of 9.0 points and 8.5 rebounds, but with Stokes’ return confirmed and collegiate interior threat Charli Collier potentially up for the top pick, it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of the Stockholm native’s future.

Suspended/Expired

Players with expired contracts but opted out of the 2020 season can negotiate exclusively with their current team 

F/G Rebecca Allen

Allen opted out of the 2020 season in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, but was routinely mentioned by Liberty representatives over the season. Hopkins, for example, never hesitated to mention just how much he missed having Allen in his debut lineup.

“She’s got a tremendous skill set and she’s got a rare mix of characteristics in that she’s about 6’2 and she’s really long and she’s deceptively athletic to go with her ability to put the ball on the floor and get fouled and shoot the three at such a high level,” Hopkins said earlier last spring. “That’s really the type of player we absolutely need for this system to work and we’ve got one built-in already. On top of that, she’s a phenomenal person.”

F Stephanie Talbot 

Talbot has yet to make her New York debut, having arrived through a draft night trade with Minnesota. Allen’s fellow Opal (a member of Australia’s national squad) likewise opted out but kept busy in her homeland’s top women’s league, earning first-team all-WNBL honors alongside WNBA All-Star Liz Cambage. Talbot previously worked with Hopkins when the latter was an assistant with the Lynx in 2019.

Outside Names to Watch

F Natasha Howard, Seattle

In her brief WNBA time, Ionescu found her shooting prowess rather quickly, scoring 33 points in only her second contest. If the Liberty were able to get another experienced interior threat, similar to what Ionescu had at Oregon with fellow 2020 draftees Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard, it could help her get even more comfortable with the WNBA game.

Howard has had her experience working with game-changing point guards in Seattle, namely Sue Bird. With a pair of All-Defensive First Team nominations, she would also give the Liberty some much needed defensive pointers, as New York has finished no better than ninth in points allowed in each of the past three seasons (including a league-worst 84.3 per game in 2019). Hopkins (as well as assistant Shelley Patterson) has also worked with Howard in the past, as the two previously collaborated on the Lynx’s 2017 run to the WNBA Finals.

F Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles

Both Kolb and Hopkins have preached about the value of high-character players representing New York, and it’s hard to find anyone more accomplished on and off the court than Ogwumike. The current Spark and future Space Jam: A New Legacy star is current in the midst of her second term as the WNBA Players Association president, with Clarendon serving as the second-in-command. WIth WNBPA headquarters situated on Sixth Ave., New York could be an attractive option to Ogwumike from both a basketball and business standpoint.

Both Howard and Ogwumike have core designations, but something can still be accomplished through a sign-and-trade deal.

F Emma Meeseman, Washington

Stokes’ newfound propensity to shoot from deep perhaps best personified Hopkins’ vision of playing positionless basketball where participants are confident from any area of the floor.

That more or less has been the story of Meeseman over the past few seasons, as she has fulfilled a variety of roles under Mike Thibault. She played it to her advantage during the 2019 WNBA Finals, coming off the bench to swipe series MVP honors after skipping the previous 2018 season to represent her native Belgium in the FIBA World Cup. Though Washington struggled without Elena Delle Donne last season, Meeseman set a new career-best with 4.5 assists per game.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Liberty legend Vickie Johnson to take Dallas HC job (Report)

An original star of the New York Liberty is set to take her second head coaching job after spending the past 15 years with the Aces franchise.

Per Chantel Jennings of The Athletic, New York Liberty legend Vickie Johnson is set to become the new head coach of the Dallas Wings. Johnson, 48, would be the 11th head coach of a franchise that began life as the Detroit Shock in 1998.

The Coushatta, Louisiana native has spent the past 15 years in some capacity with the Las Vegas Aces franchise, which was previously known as the San Antonio Silver Stars (later simply known as the Stars). She spent the final four seasons (2006-09) of her WNBA career with the team before serving as an assistant coach under Sandy Brondello (2010) and Dan Hughes (2011-16). Johnson would later oversee the final season in San Antonio (2017), going 8-28 before the team moved to Las Vegas. She was retained over the last three seasons on Bill Laimbeer’s staff, working alongside another Liberty alumna, Tanisha Wright, in the last.

Johnson began her WNBA career as an original member of the Liberty, drafted by the team in the “elite” portion (reserved for players who had previously played internationally) of the inaugural draft in 1997. Working with fellow former Louisiana Tech Lady Techster Teresa Weatherspoon and several others, Johnson helped the Liberty reach four of the first six WNBA Finals (1997, 1999, 2000, 2002). The team earned a franchise-best 21 wins in 2001, a record that stood until 2015. Johnson reached two All-Star Games as a member of the Liberty (1999, 2001). Upon her departure in 2005, she was the Liberty’s all-time leading scorer with 3,246 points, which was broken by Tina Charles in 2019. Johnson remains the Liberty’s all-time leader in games played (282) and is one of five players in the team’s Ring of Honor (joining teammates Weatherspoon, Becky Hammon, Kym Hampton, Rebecca Lobo, and Sue Wicks).

In joining Dallas, Johnson inherits the only team in the WNBA that’s younger than the Liberty in terms of age. No one on the team has more than four years’ experience in the WNBA, the roster headlined by 2020 first-rounders Satou Sabally, Bella Alarie, and Tyasha Harris. Sabally was the second overall pick in last April’s draft, chosen immediately after the Liberty took her Oregon teammate Sabrina Ionescu at No. 1. Also present is Arike Ogunbowale, the 2019 Rookie of the Year. Johnson takes over for Brian Agler, who went 18-38 in two seasons at the helm. Johnson will also be the first Black female to service in a head coaching capacity since Pokey Chatman in Indiana (2016-19).

The Liberty and Wings will each partake in the 2020 WNBA Draft Lottery on Friday night, set to be held during halftime of the college basketball game between Louisville and DePaul (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). New York will own the best odds in the lottery with a 44.2 percent chance of gaining the top overall pick. General manager Jonathan Kolb is expected to represent the team.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: 2021 WNBA Draft Lottery staged for Friday

The New York Liberty will have the top odds in the 2021 WNBA Draft Lottery, which will be held on Friday night.

‘Twas three weeks before Christmas, but the New York Liberty could gain a special early gift later this week.

The WNBA has announced that the 2021 Draft Lottery will be staged on Friday night during halftime of the anticipated college basketball matchup between No. 20 DePaul and No. 5 Louisville. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, which will carry lottery proceedings for the ninth consecutive season. LaChina Robinson will host the reveal, which will be overseen by WNBA Head of League Operations Bethany Donaphin.

New York will have the best odds entering Friday’s drawing, which takes into account cumulative records over the past two seasons for the four non-playoff teams. Weighed down in a rebuilding effort, the Liberty went 12-44 over the past two showings, including a 2-20 mark in the WNBA’s abbreviated bubble season in Bradenton, Florida.

This gives them a 44.2 percent chance of securing the top overall pick for the second straight season. Last time around, the Liberty leaped from the second-best odds to essentially “win” the Draft Lottery for the first time in team history. New York used that selection to take college basketball sensation Sabrina Ionescu out of Oregon in the most recent selections last April. Ionescu partook in three games in the Bradenton bubble before an ankle injury prematurely ended her debut season.

Behind the Liberty, the Atlanta Dream (15-41) have the second-best odds at 27.6 percent, followed by the Dallas Wings (18-38, 17.8) and Indiana Fever (19-37, 10.4). The remaining picks in the first round, consisting of 2020 playoff teams, have already been sorted through the inversion of regular season records, which will likewise determine the full order for the second and third rounds as well.

Staging the Draft Lottery during a Louisville basketball holds a sense of irony for the Liberty. Three former Cardinals currently reside on the Liberty roster, including 2019’s second overall pick Asia Durr. While Durr opted out of the bubble endeavor, the team was nonetheless represented through Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook, who were respectively taken with 12th and 13th picks during last spring’s draft. Jones was later named to the WNBA’s All-Rookie team, becoming the first New Yorker to do so since Brittany Boyd and current teammate Kiah Stokes earned the honor in 2015. Modern Louisville senior Dana Evans (18.0 points, 4.2 assists per game in 2019-20) is expected to be a first-round choice next spring.

Other big name prospects at the top of the 2021 draft board will include Rennia Davis (Tennessee), Destiny Slocum (Oregon State), and Didi Richards (Baylor). Texas junior Charli Collier has been pegged as a potential early entrant.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Sabrina Ionescu, Kia Nurse top New York Liberty’s ratings in NBA 2K21

As the NBA 2K franchise expands its WNBA content, virtual ratings for 16 members of the New York Liberty have been released.

The New York Liberty’s season in the WNBA’s Bradenton bubble has come to an end, but their virtual counterparts are getting ready to take the court.

2K Sports has unveiled the player rankings for the upcoming next-gen console release of NBA 2K21, the latest installment of its long-running pro basketball simulator. The game will feature WNBA squads for the second season and player ratings for each of the league’s dozen teams have been unveiled.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the rebuilding Liberty, who endured a 2-20 record in a year that featured seven rookies, have the lowest team rating amongst the WNBA’s 12 teams. However, New York might yet prove to be a popular choice amongst players, as touted rookie Sabrina Ionescu lead the way with an 81 overall rating. The record-breaking collegiate sensation Ionescu was the top overall pick of April’s WNBA Draft and partook in three games with the Liberty before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury. She was not on the inaugural edition of last year’s roster, though that didn’t stop players and streamers from adding her in later on.

Third-year woman and 2019 WNBA All-Star Kia Nurse comes in a 2nd place with an 81 rating. She joins Ionescu as one of five Liberty players ranked in 2K’s Top 100 WNBA players, joining Layshia Clarendon, Asia Durr, and Amanda Zahui B (all coming in a 79).

Players may also be attracted to the Liberty for their propensity to shoot the three-pointer. The New Yorkers attempted over 600 triples in actuality, and they’re blessed with six players with a three-point rating of at last 80. Rebecca Allen, one of several players who opted out of the 2020 campaign, leads the way at 86, followed closely by mid-season acquisition Paris Kea at 85. Allen, Megan Walker, and Jocelyn Willoughby have all been granted the label of “3-PT specialist” as well. In other positives, New York’s athleticism rating of 82 is tied for the best in 2K’s WNBA with the Los Angeles Sparks.

The Liberty’s full season ratings can be found here.

Working a WNBA license for the second straight season, the game has drastically expanded its work with the Assocation. Next-gen console releases will feature a customized player mode, as well as a franchise mode. NBA 2K21 will be released on November 10 for XBox Series X/S, with a release on the PlayStation 5 due two days later.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Sabrina Ionescu undergoes minor ankle procedure

sabrina ionescu, New York Liberty

The New York Liberty’s top overall pick is expected to make a full recovery after losing her rookie season to a July injury.

Sabrina Ionescu returned to New York City this week for a minor ankle procedure. The New York Liberty rookie underwent what the team called a “minimally-invasive procedure removed calcified scar tissue that was irritating a tendon behind (her) ankle”, a process overseen by Dr. Martin O’Malley at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Ionescu made her WNBA debut in the league’s Bradenton-based bubble over the summer, but her inaugural season was cut short by an ankle injury in her third game of the season.

According to Dr. O’Malley, Ionescu’s injured ligaments from her July incident have healed. Team doctors expect to clear her for physical activity soon.

“Sabrina had a minor ankle procedure to remove a loose bone chip that was irritating a tendon behind her ankle,” Dr. O’Malley in a team statement. “This chip that occurred during her sprain in July, did not involve the ankle joint cartilage surface and we expect a complete recovery.”

“With the long offseason, I am committed to returning in 2021 fully prepared to rejoin my team and jumpstart my WNBA career,”  Ionescu added in the same statement. “My rehab has been going very well and I look forward to getting back on the court.”

Ionescu set several records and earned even more accolades during her time at the University of Oregon. The Liberty took her with the top overall pick of the 2020 draft in April and she was immediately inserted into the starting lineup. She made a big impact in her limited time on the court, notably earning 33 points in only her second career game. Ionescu has spent most of the offseason in her hometown of Walnut Creek, CA, but returned to New York for her procedure. When WNBA action resumes in home arenas, the Liberty are expected to play their first full-time season at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

The Liberty will also partake in the upcoming WNBA Draft Lottery, which will be held on a date to-be-determined.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Sabrina Ionescu speaks after an abbreviated rookie season

sabrina ionescu, New York Liberty

The New York Liberty’s touted rookie spoke about her brief, yet fruitful, experiences in the “Wubble” as well as her future.

So eager is Sabrina Ionescu to return to sports that she can’t let even a yoga class go by without a sense of competitiveness.

Ever since an ankle injury prematurely ended her earliest endeavors with the New York Liberty, Ionescu has spent her time between rehabilitation in New York and with her support system in her home state of California. In her cross-country travels, Ionescu has picked yoga and pilates at home and ventured to her first instructor-led class on Wednesday morning with her gym opening back up. Her goal in the practice is to “(become) more flexible” and to “be in tune with (her) body”.

But even then, Ionescu couldn’t help but bring her fiery sense of fight that has presented itself on courts in Eugene and Bradenton alike.

“There was someone next to me today that had his hand down on a plank, and I was like ‘no, he’s cheating, that doesn’t count, your hand’s got to be on your hip’,” Ionescu said with a smile in recalling her outdoor class. “On a plank, side-plank, hand’s got to be on the hip or up, you can’t have it on the ground.”

Ionescu feels the same way about her place in the WNBA jersey sales. She placed fourth in the rankings behind league legends Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and Candace Parker, but Ionescu’s hoping to move three spots up, admitting “I’m a little bit competitive…even if it’s just jersey selling”.

Adding another talent or two to her already overcrowded scouting report should have Ionescu’s opponents on alert. WNBA opponents were spared an Ionescu takeover when she twisted her ankle during a July 31 contest against Atlanta. Wednesday marked her first time speaking with the media since that injury, as Ionescu recapped her abbreviated freshman campaign and looked toward the future.

Like many, Ionescu faced challenges in 2020, a year that saw her earn the highest highs and endure some emotionally tolling lows. Prior to entering the WNBA’s bubble in Florida, Ionescu added to her overflowing trophy case with Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Atheltic Club, and several others. The ongoing health crisis denied her a final attempt at March Madness glory but she was nonetheless named the top overall pick in April’s WNBA Draft. She the first of five rookies chosen by the Liberty that night.

The biggest lesson Ionescu learned from this year was to “cherish the moment that you have”.

“I don’t think I ever expected to miss so many games,” she said. “I think (it’s) really just think being present in the moment, being thankful for what you have, because it can be taken away from you at any moment, with my injury I definitely learned. Obviously, I’m going to continue to learn. It’s not going to be the last time I’m going to get hurt, but it’s about finding ways to continue to prepare and put myself in the best situation possible.”

Ionescu’s injury came in her third game, less than 48 hours after she put up 33 points in just her second career contest. She had 10 more in a dozen minutes against Atlanta but twisted her ankle at midcourt during the second quarter.

Asked about her thoughts in the aftermath, Ionescu wasn’t even worried about her ailment. She was worried about the outcome, one she was sure was going to tilt in the Liberty’s favor.

“It actually didn’t really hurt,” Ionescu recalled. “My face was completely straight. I don’t know if it was because I was in shock or because I knew I hurt it really bad and I didn’t want to show the other team I was hurt because I wanted to go back in. My first thought was how I could get this wrapped up and continue to play and finish the game because we would’ve won that game.”

“We were going on the run. I knew we would’ve won that game.”

The Liberty wound up falling in that contest as Ionescu’s season ended. She left the bubble soon after to start rehabbing, but her prescience lingered all season long.

Ionescu first endorsed the bubble setting’s dedication to social justice, which she labeled as “awesome to see”. While it was at times tough for her tune in to the exciting games the WNBA had to offer due to her injury…at which point Ionescu would turn to NBA games from Orlando…her focus remained on New York endeavors. The former Oregon Duck also had kind words for her New York teammates, marveling at happenings like Jazmine Jones’ nomination to the All-Rookie team and Kiah Stokes’ newfound propensity to shoot from deep. Ionescu also expressed anticipation in working with Asia Durr, the second overall pick from 2019 who sat out of the bubble proceedings about a bout with COVID-19.

But perhaps most intriguing was Ionescu’s revelation that served as a de facto fifth coach on the sidelines. Ionescu remained in constant with head coach Walt Hopkins, to the point she was texting Hopkins at halftime to relay what she saw from afar.

“There were a few times that I would actually text Walt at halftime of the game if I saw something,” Ionescu said. She jokingly took credit for the Liberty’s 101-99 victory over the Chicago Sky on August 25. “I was telling him some things that I saw and we ended up winning. I told him that I took that win from back home.”

Ionescu has otherwise been training in her home state of California, backed by a support system that includes her family and NBA stars old and new. Newly minted Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash is among them, as is Chris Paul. Each of them reached out to Ionescu after her injury, while she also credited Stephen Curry and Pau Gasol for inspiring words after her first game.

As for the future, Ionescu is confident she’ll be ready in time for the 2021 season, a year she hopes will be held in the confines of Barclays Center and the WNBA’s other home arenas. Contact drills have been put on hold due to the health crisis, though Ionescu is content to flourish in her new activities of yoga and pilates. Overseas basketball remains an option, with anywhere in Europe being her preferred destination.

But despite the Liberty’s 2-20 struggles this season, Ionescu can’t help but savor the potential and opportunities in New York. Ionescu is looking at 2021 as a de facto second rookie season, the threat of consequence-free basketball looming large over the WNBA.

Uncertainty does lie ahead for New York, as they enter what could be a chaotic free agency period and/or bid farewell to several young contributors as familiar faces like Durr start to work their way back. But, if 2020 proved anything, it’s that it’ll take a heck of a lot more than a mere injury to derail the confidence and demeanor of Ionescu.

“I kind of just took it and continued to go one foot in front of the other,” Ionescu said of her situation. “What’s next? What can I do to get better? I think this time that I’ve had, being at home, seeing my family more than I ever had, and obviously just starting this foundation of what I want to do with my career.”

“It’s really given me time to reflect. I’m really blessed to have played three games in the league just to see what it was like, how I need to train, how I need to prepare to play at that level. I can focus on that this offseason, which I’m really excited about.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty, Sabrina Ionescu provide updates on injury status

sabrina ionescu, New York Liberty

The New York Liberty provided an update on the status of Sabrina Ionescu on Saturday. The top overall pick responded in style.

No matter when Sabrina Ionescu is ready to return, it appears that the New York Liberty’s top overall pick will be ready to go.

The Liberty released an update on their injured rookie attraction on Saturday, declaring that she will not need surgery to repair a sprained ankle sustained in the Liberty’s July 31 tilt against Atlanta. Ionescu has been rehabbing in New York while her teammates continue to work their way through the WNBA’s 2020 proceedings in the Bradenton bubble.

“(She) has been evaluated and physicians have determined that no surgery is needed,” a statement from the Liberty reads. “She has received a positive prognosis for a full recovery and is continuing to rehab.”

Ionescu took to her Instagram story to respond to the news.

Prior to her injury, Ionescu averaged 18.3 points (on 45 percent shooting) and 4.7 rebounds. The University of Oregon alumna earned a fair amount of hype leading to her selection in the WNBA Draft in April. She is by far the NCAA’s all-time leader in triple-doubles (26) and has also taken home countless hardwood accolades, including the Associated Press’ most recent Player of the Year honor. Ionescu came close to her first professional triple-double in her second game as New York, earning 33 points and seven assists and rebounds each on July 29 against Dallas.

Ionescu, 22, has since been rehabbing in both New York and California. Other recent Instagram highlights included dinner in Marina Del Rey with her close friend and fellow Walnut Creek, California native Bree Alford and a movie night with the wife and children of the late Kobe Bryant. Ionescu shared a strong relationship with Bryant and his teenage daughter Gianna prior to their deaths in a helicopter crash in January and continues to socialize with Bryant’s widow Vanessa and his surviving children Bianka, Natalia, and Capri.

Ionescu’s teammates have been in constant contact with her and head coach Walt Hopkins has discussed the team’s ongoing bubble endeavors over the phone and video calls.

“Different people have reached out,” fellow rookie Jocelyn Willoughby said. “We know she’s watching and supporting us. She told us to hang in there and keep fighting.”

“I’m super happy for Sabrina,” veteran forward/center Kiah Stokes added. “I talk to her often. Her morale is high…she’s excited to restart rehab and get back. She’s a workhorse, so she’s going to be ready for next season”

The remaining Liberty representatives return to action on Saturday night in Bradenton as they take on the Connecticut Sun (7 p.m. ET, YES/CBSSN).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty show fight sans Sabrina Ionescu, Kia Nurse (Highlights)

sabrina ionescu, New York Liberty

The New York Liberty were missing two of their star attractions on Friday night, but still took the Atlanta Dream to the brink.

The New York Liberty lost two of their star attractions to injury on Friday night, but still managed to give the Atlanta Dream all they could handle.

Rookie Jazmine Jones led the Liberty with 20 points off the bench after fellow first-year and top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu was lost to an ankle injury in Friday’s tilt against the Atlanta Dream in the bubble at IMG Academy. Atlanta eventually prevailed by an 84-78 final, but the Liberty’s valiant effort without Ionescu and Kia Nurse was encouraging after a one-sided defeat to Dallas on Wednesday.

“We battled most of the game,” head coach Walt Hopkins said in a postgame Zoom conference. “The way that we fought pretty much across the board with our team was impressive and exciting. We responded to the things that we talked about and the things that we worked on. It was good.”

Ionescu, coming off a 33-point showing, rolled her ankle in transition midway through the second quarter. She was helped off the court by a trainer and teammate Leaonna Odom and was and did not return to the game. Hopkins said that Ionescu was likely taken to a local hospital for x-rays, which revealed no fracture and came back negative according to Shams Charania of ESPN. She had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting prior to her forced departure.

Nurse missed the first game of her three-year WNBA career, suffering an ankle sprain of her own in the Liberty’s opening game last weekend.

Friday presented a roller-coaster affair for the Liberty (0-3) who found themselves trailing 12-0 at the midway stage of the opening frame. The scoring efforts of Ionescu and Kylee Shook allowed the Liberty to trim the lead to 22-16 and even took the lead early on in the second thanks to the efforts of an all-rookie lineup. When Ionescu went down, Jones and Layshia Clarendon, a rare New York veteran, helped keep the Liberty in the game.

The rookie Jones, chosen with the final pick of the first round out of Louisville, added two blocks and two steals to her infantile career-best in scoring.

“We have a mindset, all the rookies especially, that when we get in the game, just run up and down the court, be relentless, be tough,” Jones said. “We’re very talented from top to bottom. In our heads, we feel like we have the better bench per say, because we have a lot of rookies that can play multiple positions. It’s just fun that we have this kind of team, that the coaches can put us in different kind of alignments to be successful.”

Atlanta (2-1) threatened to pull away again in the third quarter, again going on an early run and holding the Liberty scoreless for over the first five minutes. Their lead summited at 14 points, but the Liberty once again made things close. New York whittled the lead all the way down to three in the penultimate minute of the game, but the Dream was able to finally hold them off. Rutgers alumna Betnijah Laney tallied a career-best 30 points while Elizabeth Williams had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds). April’s fourth overall pick Chennedy Carter fouled out but tallied 17 points.

Clarendon reached double-figures for the third straight game with 16 points, while rookie Layshia Clarendon earned 14 in defeat.

The Liberty and Dream will square off again on September 3.

New York will wrap up a stretch of three games in five days on Sunday afternoon when they battle the Phoenix Mercury (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty: Sabrina Ionescu nets 33 in loss to Dallas (Highlights)

A WNBA-record 10 rookies partook in Wednesday night’s showdown between the New York Liberty and Dallas Wings.

A return to form for Sabrina Ionescu wasn’t enough for the New York Liberty to get back in the win column.

The top pick in April’s draft was part of a performance that featured the contributions of ten rookies, the most to partake in a single WNBA game. Ionescu led the way with 33 points but five Dallas Wings reached double-figures en route to a 93-80 victory in the WNBA’s IMG Academy bubble in Bradenton, Florida.

“I thought Dallas was the tougher team. I thought they wanted it more. I think our players will tell you the same thing,” head coach Walt Hopkins said in a postgame Zoom call. “These are growth points. This is a young group and we’re all looking how to put together 40 minutes of consistency. As you can see, Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s one of these losses that you learn from.”

While Ionescu had her moments in her professional debut on Saturday against Seattle (12 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), some negative reviews focused on a tough shooting performance (4-of-17 FG, 0-for-8 from three-point range). Ionescu was a silver lining for New York on a tough off night, sinking 11-of-20 shot attempts, including 6-of-10 from deep. Her 33 points are one short of the Liberty’s rookie record set by a current teammate, Kia Nurse, in 2018. Ionescu also put in seven assists and rebounds each.

The improved personal marks were of no consolation to Ionescu.

“Coming in, it’s going to be a process. Piece-by-piece, we’ve just got to keep building every single game, every single day in practice,” she said. “Obviously, I’m not happy because we didn’t win, so that part still isn’t up to my standard, our standard as a team and an organization. We’re still getting used to each other as a brand new team with a lot of new faces, so it’s just going to take us some growing pains. My teammates know it took us some growing pains at Oregon as well. It’s going to take time, but hopefully, we just keep building and getting to know each other.”

The Liberty (0-2) jumped out to a small, but early, lead in the first quarter. But the frame ended with a buzzer-beating triple from Kayla Thornton, one that gave Dallas a permanent lead. The Wings (1-1) pulled away with a 34-21 advantage in the second quarter, creating a 58-43 lead at the half despite 11 points over the final 90 seconds from Ionescu. Arike Ogunbowale led Dallas scorers with 20 points.

Both the Liberty and Wings are the youngest teams in the WNBA, with Dallas holding the title by mere decimal digits. The teams held nine of the most recent draft’s first 15 picks in April, and the Liberty added former Seattle draftee Joyner Holmes (7 points, 4 rebounds) after several veterans opted out of the 2020 season. Second overall pick and Ionescu’s fellow Oregon alumna Satou Sabally was among those who reached double-figures for Dallas (12 points). On the New York side, Megan Walker and Jazmine Jones each made their WNBA debuts. The pair were respectively chosen in the ninth and twelfth slots of the draft and missed the Saturday opener due to illness and injury.

“It’s awesome to be able to see all the rookies in this league especially playing against them in college and now being able to see them at the next level. Hopefully, we can continue to be able to grow this league and keep having more and more viewership and learning through the veterans that played here before us,” Ionescu said. “I think it was awesome to see all the young faces out on the floor. It was awesome to see Satou on the floor, definitely really weird not having her on my team. I definitely miss playing with her. She did great, I think. She stayed composed, she made the right plays, she’s going to fit into that team really well. I was really excited to see her, to play against her, to kind of talk some smack to her at the free throw line.”

Layshia Clarendon (partaking in the 200th WNBA game of her career) was the only other New Yorker to earn double-figures in scoring (11 points) while Amanda Zahui B led all participants with 11 rebounds. The Liberty and Wings will meet for a grudge match in Bradenton on August 27.

New York will return to action quickly, battling the Atlanta Dream on Friday night (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Liberty to open 2020 WNBA proceedings (Full Schedule)

The New York Liberty’s opening matchup with the Seattle Storm will officially open WNBA proceedings in the Bradenton bubble.

The New York Liberty will help officially christen the WNBA bubble setup in Bradenton, Florida…affectionately referred to as the “Wubble” by participants and media…on July 25. New York’s 2020 debut will officially open the 2020 season, the WNBA’s 24th year of operation, as they take on the Seattle Storm.

Each of the league’s dozen squads is currently headquartered at IMG Academy preparing for a 22-game season. Games will take place on two courts set up at Feld Entertainment Center in nearby Palmetto. The Liberty’s tilt with Seattle will tip-off at noon Eastern Time and be televised nationally on ESPN. It is part of a WNBA tripleheader to open the season, with a Western Conference title between the Los Angeles Sparks and Phoenix Mercury following at 3 p.m. ET on ABC. Opening day proceedings wrap up with the defending champion Washington Mystics taking on the Indiana Fever two hours later.

The premiere showdown against Seattle will serve as the professional debut for Sabrina Ionescu, New York’s top overall pick of April’s WNBA Draft. Ionescu is one of six rookies on the Liberty roster, which also welcomes back All-Star Kia Nurse. Ionescu’s debut coincides with the return of Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird for Seattle. The pair were key factors behind the Storm’s 2018 WNBA Finals run, which saw Stewart earn seasonal MVP honors and Bird don her third championship ring. They both missed all of last season with injuries, their ailments relegating Seattle to a sixth-place finish in the standings. The Storm would top Minnesota in the playoff quarterfinals before falling to Los Angeles.

Other key dates for the Liberty include…

July 29 (Dallas)-The youngest teams in the WNBA will square off over 3,000 miles from the University of Oregon, the alma mater of Ionescu and Satou Sabally. Dallas’ top pick heard her name called minutes after her fellow former Duck as the second overall choice last spring.

August 5 (Minnesota)-The first of two matchups with the Lynx will be a nostalgic time for each team’s respective bench. Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins spent the past three seasons as a Minnesota assistant (winning the 2017 WNBA Finals). His seat has since been occupied by Naismith Hall-of-Famer Katie Smith, who spent the last seven years in the Liberty organization, the last two as head coach.

August 7 (Washington)-Traded to the Mystics this offseason, it remains to be seen if Tina Charles, the Liberty’s all-time leading scorer, as she awaits medical clearance to partake in Floridian proceedings. It will nonetheless be the first of two meetings with the defending WNBA champions.

August 20 (Chicago)-Another Oregon reunion awaits Ionescu, as the Sky chose Ruthy Hebard with the seventh overall pick in April.

August 29 (Las Vegas)-In addition to another get-together with former head coach Bill Laimbeer (who has gone 5-1 against New York since taking the Aces’ job in 2018), this game has added meaning as the WNBA’s network debut on CBS.

All put six games on the Liberty’s current schedule have earned a national window on the networks of ESPN and CBS. An updated schedule on the team’s YES Network flagship television station will be released at a later date.

Check out the full Liberty schedule below…

Date Opponent Time (ET) TV
July 25 Seattle 12 p.m. ESPN
July 29 Dallas 8 p.m. CBSSN
July 31 Atlanta 7 p.m. TBD
August 2 Phoenix 1 p.m. ESPN
August 5 Minnesota 7 p.m. CBSSN
August 7 Washington 7 p.m. ESPN2
August 9 Las Vegas 3 p.m. ESPN
August 11 Los Angeles 9 p.m. ESPN2
August 13 Indiana 6 p.m. TBD
August 15 Minnesota 6 p.m. CBSSN
August 18 Seattle 10 p.m. TBD
August 20 Chicago 7 p.m. CBSSN
August 22 Connecticut 4 p.m. CBSSN
August 25 Chicago 7 p.m. CBSSN
August 27 Dallas 8 p.m. CBSSN
August 29 Las Vegas 4 p.m. CBS
September 1 Connecticut 7 p.m. CBSSN
September 3 Atlanta 7 p.m. TBD
September 5 Phoenix 8 p.m. TBD
September 8 Los Angeles 7 p.m. CBSSN
September 10 Indiana 7 p.m. CBSSN
September 12 Washington 4 p.m. TBD

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags